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Yankees players mostly mum about Damon's departure

Johnny Damon flies out to right field in

Johnny Damon flies out to right field in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Game Two of the ALCS. (October 17, 2009) Credit: Getty Images

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. - Johnny be gone, and if any of his former Yankees teammates have a problem with it, they weren't saying so yesterday.

Three days after the Yankees signed Randy Winn and effectively parted ways with free agent Johnny Damon, several Yankees who made an appearance at an autograph show in Westchester recognized his importance to last season's championship run but did not question the team's decision to pass on his contract demands.

"It's not my call,'' said Nick Swisher, Damon's lockermate. "Obviously, Johnny's a great friend of mine . . . He brought me [into the clubhouse]. He's a great guy, you know? I wish him the best of luck.''

Said Joba Chamberlain: "I've really been out of the loop, been hanging out with my family, my son. He was a big part of everything that we did. Sometimes that's the way things go.''

Damon hit .282 with 24 home runs last season. Winn, seven months Damon's junior, hit .262 with two home runs in 538 at-bats for the Giants.

Before the Yankees signed Winn, Brett Gardner was staring at a potential starting job after a strong turn as last season's fourth outfielder. With the switch-hitting Winn on board, the lefthanded-hitting Gardner seems likely to return to a platoon role.

"It's not something I really worry about,'' Gardner said. "All I got to do is put myself in a good position and have a good spring training and things will take care of themselves. I'm not sure how things are going to play out yet.''

Gardner said he hasn't heard from the team whether he again will play centerfield, with Curtis Granderson moving to leftfield, or whether Granderson will stay in centerfield and Gardner will play left. Granderson played centerfield for the Tigers before being acquired from the Yankees and Gardner split time with Melky Cabrera in center last season.

(Manager Joe Girardi said Saturday he has spoken to the outfielders and will see what happens in spring training.)

Gardner, Chamberlain, Swisher and Andy Pettitte were part of the early autograph session, hosted by Steiner Sports. Alex Rodriguez - with an entourage in tow that turned away reporters - Mariano Rivera and A.J. Burnett arrived for the afternoon, and a total of about 2,000 fans attended the sessions.

Chamberlain said he has prepared only to pitch; whether that will be out of the bullpen or in the rotation will be sorted out later. With the addition of Javier Vazquez, there's room for Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to start, but not both.

One way or another, Chamberlain wouldn't mind putting the Joba Rules behind him.

"It's one of those things; it's part of growing up and it's part of the process,'' he said. "But I look forward to not having to talk about it anymore.''

Pettitte, whom the Yankees signed to a one-year, $11.75- million deal in December, said the start of his offseason throwing program was pushed back, as requested by Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland, because of how late last season ran.

Pettitte, an admitted former user of performance-enhancing drugs, said he was disappointed to hear Mark McGwire's confession of the same almost three weeks ago.

"Really just hate to see it,'' Pettitte said. "You hate to see someone have to go through that. You know what he's going through from a certain standpoint, with the media and stuff like that . . . It's all out, he's come out with it; now hopefully, he can put it behind him.''

New York Sports